Talking Turkey


Left: Istanbul Biennial curator Hou Hanru. Right: Artist Haluk Akakçe and dealer Murat Pilevneli. (All photos: Miguel Amado)

Last Wednesday’s opening of “Time Present, Time Past” at the Istanbul Modern kicked off the festivities around the Istanbul Biennial’s tenth edition. As I entered the museum, an uncannily familiar tune drew my attention: The Smiths’s “Panic”—and other songs—were being performed, karaoke-style, by Istanbul inhabitants in a video by artist Phil Collins, entrancing an audience that included artist Nedko Solakov and Van Abbemuseum director Charles Esche. I later found Collins standing with his local collaborators, such as exhibition organizer Derya Demir. The British artist suggested that I check out that evening’s live concerts at The Hall, organized by Demir. It must have been a popular suggestion: At this former church close to the vibrant Istiklal Street, I saw many of the guests spotted earlier at the museum—including young curators Mai Abu ElDahab, November Paynter, and Antonia Majaca—enjoying the Istanbul nightlife.

The next morning began at the Atatürk Cultural Centre, where VIPs such as MUDAM’s director Marie-Claude Beaud were already paying a visit to the biennial. Everyone was mulling over the lofty ideals of this year’s curator, Hou Hanru, who said: “It’s not only possible but also necessary to envision a better world. Optimism is a necessary spirit for us to survive this age of global war.” And free DVDs don’t hurt, either, as demonstrated by Chen Chieh-Jen’s action, in which he distributed complimentary copies of his otherwise limited-edition, expensive videos. Chen was at the Textile Traders’ Market, where—many visitors exasperatedly complained—most of the works were poorly installed. Our disillusionment was countered by the cacophonic yet meaningful exhibition at Antrepo nº 3—“Hanru’s type of display,” as someone commented—that explored the theme of utopia versus war.

Left: MoMA associate curator Christian Rattemeyer with Teresa Gleadowe. Right: Curator Antonia Majaca.

I skipped an early open-air, smart-dress dinner outside Antrepo nº 3 to attend the opening of Mladen Stilinovic’s exhibition at the Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Center. There, a sophisticated crowd wasn’t above being amused by a storefront piece: an animated frog jumping to the sound track of a voice shouting “great show.” Alongside Stilinovic, Platform Garanti’s director, Vasif Kortun, was hailed repeatedly, perhaps in anticipation of the upcoming refurbishment of the multistory building that will boost the institution’s programs. After learning that artist Julieta Aranda was voiceless as a result of her wild performance “Too Drunk to Fuck (But Drunk Enough to Talk About Art)” the previous evening, I went to check out the opening of Haluk Akakçe’s latest show at Galerist—encountering, on my way, a bevy of Brits led by consultant Teresa Gleadowe, critic Claire Bishop, and collector Alex Sainsbury. Competing with the works on view was the overwhelmingly effusive Akakçe himself, alongside his dealers Murat Pilevneli and the Barcelona-based Rebeca Blanchard.

We headed on to a rooftop reception at the Marmara Pera Hotel, celebrating the pending inauguration of Rodeo, a new gallery. There, over a glass of wine and a cigarette, Sainsbury unveiled the plans for his nonprofit venue in the Spitalfields area of East London, funded with his own money. (In case I had forgotten that Sainsbury’s is a ubiquitous UK supermarket chain, he reminded me that he comes from “a very wealthy family.”) After bidding Gleadowe farewell, Sainsbury, Bishop, and I set off to the Liman club’s invitation-only parties, the first of many organized by the biennial team. Although chatting with Lisson Gallery’s Elena Crippa was a pleasure, I soon left, offering, as an excuse, the appalling Turkish version of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” that had begun to reverberate from the towering speakers.

Left: Artist Nedko Solakov. Right: Curators Mai Abu Eldahab and November Paynter with Van Abbemuseum director Charles Esche.

On Friday afternoon, the official opening of the biennial allowed me to spend most of the day sightseeing the tourist attractions of the Golden Horn’s south bank, from monuments to ubiquitous water-pipe smokers. When a melodious Muslim call to prayer filled the air, I entered a mosque adjacent to the Grand Bazaar to witness the ceremony. Yet even in a house of worship I couldn’t escape the art world’s omnipresence: Inside was critic Jerry Saltz, barefoot like everyone else, respectfully watching the service.

A little later, back at Antrepo nº 3, Istanbul’s elite mingled with a parade of visiting curators, including Christian Rattemeyer, Massimiliano Gioni, Ali Subotnick, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Bruce Ferguson, and Dan Cameron. The latter described as “smart” Huang Yong Ping’s piece that dealt with the city’s contradictory religious traditions by enclosing within white linen panels a replica of a mosque’s minaret. Concluding the evening, the admired Turkish actress Derya Alabora, standing on top of a bed, recited some poems that Sam Samore had written—in Turkish, to the dismay of the international set. Samore explained to me that his aim was “to engage with Istanbul’s spirit.” And indeed, that week, whose aim was any different?

Left: Video technician Metin Çavus, Platform Garanti’s Derya Demir, and artist Phil Collins. Right: Artist Sora Kim.

Left: A view of Istanbul. Right: Artists Lala Rascic and Ivan Grubanov.

Left: MUDAM curator Clément Minighetti and MUDAM director Marie-Claude Beaud. Right: Artist Nancy Davenport.

Left: Curator Vasif Kortun, director of Platform Garanti, and artist Mladen Stilinovic. Right: Sean Kelly Gallery's Boshko Boskovic.

Left: Xurban collective members Imam, Pope, and Pagan. Right: Artist Irene Kopelman and curator Jennifer Teets.